What’s the Best Language for Mobile Game Development?

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So you’ve heard about the pandemic-driven demand for mobile games and have decided to build your own. You’ve heard about the returns you gain by doing so, and they sound promising. 

Because 75% of mobile gameplay acquired during the pandemic will likely remain in the next two years, releasing a mobile game now could increase your chances of attracting an audience. Even better if you make the right kind of game.

The kicker is you don’t know where to start. So maybe we can start here, by exploring the best language for mobile game development.

The Best Language for Mobile Game Development

With hundreds of programming languages currently in use, it would be impractical to test each and every one out just so you could find the best one for your needs. But in order to find the best game programming language for your mobile game idea, you will still need to sift through options. 

But don’t worry! There’s absolutely no need to go through a hundred. And just by reading this article, you won’t even need to look into ten. 

However, instead of giving you a one-size-fits-all game programming language, which is unrealistic for game development anyway, we’re going to dive into the options you’ll want to check out, based on Slant.co’s rankings.

As with any development framework or language, it’s important to remember the “best” option is purely subjective. It will depend on the goals and scope of your mobile game project.

Image credits to Canva

According to 71 user recommendations, the top programming languages for mobile game development are:

  • Kotlin
  • JavaScript
  • Swift
  • C++
  • C#

At NarraSoft, we think using C# and C++ for games is a no-brainer. Big-time game engines — namely Unity and Unreal, respectively — use them as their main programming language after all. And both game engines are capable of mobile game development. But what about the rest? 

Kotlin

Developed in 2010, Kotlin is an open-source programming language by JetBrains built to contribute something new to the development community and give its creators an easier time maintaining Intellij IDEA, a Java-based framework for software development. 

When then Kotlin engineer and now product manager Dmitry Jemerov had the idea of introducing a new language, the JetBrains team was understandably hesitant. However, their deep understanding of about 20 programming languages made them consider otherwise, they said in a documentary.

They identified the strengths and weaknesses of these languages and with this knowledge, they created Kotlin. Because Kotlin was partly built for JetBrains’ Intellij IDEA, of course the language would have similarities to Java.

The key difference is Kotlin has a clearer and more concise syntax. In comparison to Java, Kotlin can cut down code by 40%, its official website says. In fact, it’s considered to be “brilliantly designed” and “mature” that Google announced in 2017 its support for the language on Android.

So if you’re planning to build a mobile game for Android devices, Kotlin is a good game programming language to start using. 

Mobile game development with Kotlin is also made all the more compatible by the multiplatform game engine KorGE. But you can choose to make simple Android games as well with other integrated development environments (IDEs).

Important note: According to one of our developers, the languages suitable for Android game development are Kotlin and Java.

JavaScript

Initially created to optimize a developer’s experience with web development, JavaScript evolved to become one of the most commonly used languages today. Just like Kotlin, it was meant to be similar to Java in certain ways. Today, it powers a lot of the interactive elements of a webpage.

However, JavaScript can do more than simply let you fill out search bars and load webpage images. It’s also capable of mobile game development. 

An advantage of using JavaScript for game development is it can run anywhere on the web. For browser games, this is a pretty good tool, but it can develop mobile games as well, mainly for Android. 

Perhaps a main draw for developers to use JavaScript for mobile game development is a ton of game engines and frameworks support it, including CopperCube and PhaserJS.

Learn more about Lua and JavaScript on our blog post “5 Game Development Languages Your Team Should Know Right Now” 

Image credits to Canva

Swift 

Made by Apple and announced in 2014, Swift is a general-purpose programming language meant to perform like the C languages — particularly Objective-C — in terms of speed. Except it’s for Apple. It’s also an expressive and safe language that makes coding simplified and expansive, similar to Kotlin. 

With Swift, the development phase could take more time because it immediately alerts developers about any errors before running the software. This, according to Swift’s official website, is what makes the language “safe”, which is supposedly good for development in the long run. 

When it comes to mobile gaming, Swift is often used in conjunction with SpriteKit and — of course — Apple-based IDEs like Xcode. By this point, it’s pretty obvious the primary target of this programming language are Apple devices. 

So if your goal is to build a game for Apple users, Swift is arguably the best game programming language for the job.

Because its syntax is simple and community growing, Swift is a good tool for developers new to iOS game development, along with SpriteKit. SpritKit is a general-purpose framework capable of 2D mobile game development. 

Swift’s latest update was released in June this year.

Important note: One of our developers notes some of the top languages for iOS game development are Swift and Objective-C, while another suggests using third-party game engines, such as Unity, to develop iOS games.

C# and C++

Just because we lumped them together in this article doesn’t mean C# and C++ had come from the same developer. But while they may not be from the same family tree, they do have something in common. They’re considered the most powerful languages for game development. 

Created by Bjarne Stroustrup in the ‘80s, C++ aimed to make C more developer-friendly. The latter is an early example of a high-level programming language. But because this was popular during the nascent period of programming, it being a high-level language — or one much closer to human language — doesn’t hold true today.

So Stroustrup made a language that was relatively easier to read and use. On the other hand, Microsoft and Anders Hejlsberg created C# actually in reaction to Java, another popular language, for its .NET environment. Its performance is close to C++, but its syntax is much easier to understand, making it a higher-level programming language.

What does this have to do with mobile games? Speed is a crucial element in gaming, as we pointed out earlier. Because both languages are close to the early programming language C, C# and C++ can help develop high-performance and graphically demanding games. 

Another reason why these languages are widely used in game development is major game engines use them. These game engines include Unity, Unreal, and CryEngine, all of which have the capacity to build mobile games. 

Some Notes on C# and C++

C# is ideal for the development phase of a game; however, it can create high-performance mobile games. One of our developers says it’s the optimal language for the Windows Phone, which has been discontinued.

C++, however, is preferred for the more graphics-heavy games as it can significantly improve a game’s performance through speed. But of course, it also boils down to the game engine, as well as the developer’s experience and skill. 

In Summary

What’s the best language for mobile game development? The answer depends on the type of mobile game you want to build and the operating system you’re targeting. However, with the help of Slant.co’s rankings, we’ve narrowed down some of the best options for mobile game development programming:

  • Kotlin
  • JavaScript
  • Swift
  • C++
  • C#

According to one of NarraSoft’s developers, the shortlist for mobile game development languages are:

  • Kotlin and Java for Android
  • Swift and Objective-C for iOS
  • C# for the Windows Phone, although this has already been discontinued

Build your mobile game with some of the best developers in the industry.

NarraSoft has a team of dedicated mobile app developers, game developers, 2D and 3D artists, and animators you can outsource your project to! Check out our portfolio to see what we can do.

Add us to your team today! Send us an email at sales@narrasoft.com or leave a message our way through our chat box or contact form. Let’s bring your mobile game to the next level!

Sources: slant.co | kotlinlang.org | Kotlin by JetBrains YouTube | blog.jetbrains.com (1) (2) | thenewstack.io | swift.org | iOS developer Sean Allen YouTube | forbes.com

Justine Jordan

Justine Jordan is a content and copy writer. She has written for a popular business daily in the Philippines and for various startups across the globe before transitioning to work for NarraSoft. She graduated cum laude from the University of the Philippines-Diliman with a bachelor's degree in journalism.